A walk-and-talk romance and a shape-shifting monster movie, Spring focuses on transformation and refuses easy categorisation.
Exposing the unpleasant depths buried beneath seeming idylls is a cinema staple; in the realisation that shiny facades aren't what they appear is where drama, thrills and sometimes even comedy lies. Working towards such a revelation is often enough to hang a narrative on, inspire a sense of mood, and sustain interest, with characters' journeys ending with an act of discovery, be it frozen in horror or flush with triumph. What happens next, when enough time passes for shock and surprise to turn to acceptance and an embrace of difference, is frequently left to the imagination.
In Spring, writer/director Justin Benson and his filmmaking partner Aaron Moorhead relish the build up to a strange twist of fate, just as they revel in foreshadowing that something unusual will come. The duo let their leads meet and fall in love, and threaten them with the kind of trouble that typically signals doom. Learning that someone harbours a secret isn't their endgame, though; charting the aftermath and contemplating the consequences is. Their film is the type that, had the various parts not come together as well, would have been accused of not knowing what it wants to be – but Spring has a firm grasp on exactly that and then some.
At first, the co-helmers wrestle with standard indie solemnity as twenty-something sous-chef Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci, Evil Dead) faces loss and plunges into violence and sex as a coping mechanism. Fleeing his problems, he pursues an impromptu overseas getaway in the usual raucous American abroad manner, until a detour to a quiet Italian town leaves him traversing romantic sightseeing territory. What attractive genetics student Louise (Nadia Hilker, German TV's Stuttgart Homicide) considers nothing more than a physical fling, Evan thinks could be the start of something more. Their graduation from walking, talking and getting to know each other to pondering a life together is expedited by a series of odd happenings, though holidaying horror isn't the name of the game, nor mystical trickery – a shape-shifting monster movie is.
The jumping that Spring clearly does, moving from one narrative bud and subgenre branch to the next, befits a film focused on transformation and fervent in its refusal to fit into any single category. In their second feature after 2012's Resolution, Benson and Moorhead also refuse to surrender to easy options, favouring waiting and watching over immediate gratification. Their atmospheric effort, moulded from familiar parts yet shaped by its own mythology into something new, doesn't dare wallow on a well-worn path. Their cast, most notably the naturalistic, charismatic pair of Pucci and Hilker, are given room to build both characters and a bond between them, crafting a realistic relationship first and scares second.
Indeed, beyond the unhurried pace and the commitment to tracking the tale past the point where most movies conclude, it is the feeling of fashioning rather than rehashing something that gives Spring its organic air. The directors cultivate the same sensation with their visual choices, showcasing the story rather than vice versa, whether circling around Evan and Louise's first meeting, using drones to capture the stunning scenery, or slowly ramping up their low-budget special effects. Fantastical and supernatural as some elements may lean, including both the flourishes of love and the splashes of blood, the film always values people and the personal over style and spectacle. So flourishes a movie rooted in emotion and affection, then nurtured by understanding and patience, with Spring not just sprouting from but flowering into a garden of hybrid genre growths.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Directors: Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead
US, 2014, 109 mins
Sydney Film Festival
June 3 – 14, 2015
Revelation Perth International Film Festival
July 2 – 12, 2015